Plus: The Four Seasons Seoul opens and Heathrow expands
We’re on the cusp of another holiday weekend (Columbus Day, AKA Indigenous People's Day) here in the United States, which hopefully means you’ll have plenty of time to catch up on all of this juicy travel news from the week. As always, if you have any questions about what you read in this column, Tweet them to us at @AFARmedia.
Hurricane Joaquin devastates parts of Bahamas
The first headline-grabbing hurricane of the 2015 hurricane season wreaked havoc on a number of islands in the Bahamas last weekend, causing sheer devastation to a number of smaller islands in the southern and central parts of the archipelago. Crooked Island in particular was among the hardest-hit spots; south of Long Island, near Clarencetown, was obliterated as well. The Club Med resort on San Salvador also reported extensive damage, though (thankfully) no guests were there at the time of the storm. While the hurricane appeared to miss the Bahamas’ largest resort areas, reports indicated that the storm did cause “tens of millions” of dollars of damage overall. Rebuilding already has begun.
Princess Cruises latest to raise fees
Cruising is getting more expensive these days, due to spikes in fees. Princess Cruises was the latest line to raise its optional service fees, announcing this week that it will raise its daily charge for non-suite guests by 13 percent and for suite guests by 16 percent effective January 1, 2016. Under the new policy, this means non-suite service fees will climb to $12.95 from $11.50 per person per day in 2016, and suite fees to $13.95 from $12. The increase would bring the suggested fee amount for two non-suite passengers on a seven-day cruise to $181.30. The increase is intended to go to staff. Of course, passengers reserve the right to adjust or remove gratuity charges at the guest services desk before disembarking the ship, but if guests don’t actively change the charges, the cruise line considers them to be “uncontested.” Norwegian and Holland America also recently adjusted their service-fee policies. Last week, Holland America rolled out fee hikes similar to the ones from Princess—a $1 increase for non-suite passengers and a $1.50 increase for suite passengers. In September, Norwegian made changes to the policy regulating when guests can tweak the bill.
New stuff is a constant in the travel world but some openings are bigger than others. Exhibit A: Morimoto Asia, which opened earlier this month at Disney Springs, a reimagined shopping-dining-entertainment district at The Walt Disney World Resort. The menu features cuisine from across Asia, a first for Chef Masaharu Morimoto, who usually focuses on Japanese food only. The restaurant itself is two levels and includes lounges, dining spaces, open terraces, a sushi bar, cocktail areas, and an exhibition kitchen that allows diners to watch chefs in action. Another opening worth noting: Four Seasons Seoul, a 317-room resort hotel in the business district. According to Four Seasons, the property opened with seven unique restaurants and bars, 160 original works of art, a three-story spa, and fitness complex. Sounds like a comfy place to spend a night (or more).
Cracks in glass walkway freak out Chinese tourists
One of the downsides to glass walkways: Sometimes they crack. That’s what happened at a brand new attraction on the side of a mountain in Yuntaishan (Yuntai Mountain) Scenic Park this week—an engineering fail that sent hundreds of tourists screaming and scurrying for solid ground. Thankfully, no-one was hurt in the Henan Province incident, and structural experts say only one of the three panes of glass actually cracked. Still, reports from the scene described the experience as harrowing; this particular glass walkway represents about one-quarter of an 853-foot cliff-side walkway, and it sits about 3,280 feet off the ground. The attraction was closed immediately and will remain closed until the broken pane is replaced.
New tour options, free supplement for Boomers
Calling all Baby Boomers! Albania, Macedonia, Chile, New Zealand, and the Iberian Peninsula are the four newest destinations for small-group trips from Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), a company that specializes in soft-adventure tours for Americans over 50. The outfitter announced the new trips last week, also unveiling free single supplements to accommodate a growing solo traveler segment. Overall, OAT now offers 48 different tours. The company is part of Boston-based Grand Circle Corporation's family of travel companies, which include Grand Circle Cruise Line and Grand Circle Travel.
Sneak peek at runway No. 3
Anyone who’s ever traveled to London’s Heathrow Airport can understand and appreciate the need for a third runway—taxiing for take-off on most flights takes longer than most sitcoms. Britain’s Airports Commission recommended a new runway earlier this year; the commission unveiled plans for the new runway and associated expansion this week. The plans comprise a new central terminal, hotels, a business park and a 10,000-foot runway, which would be long enough to accommodate any aircraft type. Plans also call for a new traffic management system, which should at least in theory cut down on wait times for getting out of and into London. Stay tuned for details.
Study: Travelers skimping on phone protections
An underwhelming number of travelers care to insure their mobile phones when they travel. That’s the gist of results from a recent survey conducted by Protect Your Bubble, a nationwide provider of protection plans. The survey, dubbed “Traveling with Tech,” culled responses from 780 Americans. Perhaps the most interesting data point: Despite 50 percent of respondents worrying about some kind of device malfunction during their travels, 87 percent noted that they do not use a more hardy case or purchase a protection plan for their smartphone before business or leisure travel. Another confounding stat: 29 percent of respondents said they are concerned about water damage to their phones, but 58 percent of travelers still bring devices with them for water-based activities anyway (including jet skiing, deep sea fishing and snorkeling).
Airline loses CEO’s luggage
We love Alaska Airlines (seriously; they are my personal fave) but couldn’t stifle laughter this week at news that the airline lost the luggage of its own CEO. The Los Angeles Times reported that Alaska CEO Bradley Tilden was “embarrassed” to admit on stage at an industry event that the airline had misplaced his bag en route. Apparently Tilden received his bag the following day. Typically, Alaska guarantees delivery of checked bags to baggage claim within 20 minutes of landing, and promises a $25 credit toward a future flight or 2,500 miles to passengers whose bags get lost. It’s doubtful Tilden received anything for his trouble, but we hope he at least used the corporate card to buy a new suit.
You don’t have to be a parent to appreciate the snarf-your-coffee humor of Jamie Kaler’s recent Babble essay about the horrors of flying with kids. The piece published earlier this week; in it, Kaler, an actor and comedian, enumerates the aspects of family travel that make him want to run for the hills. One of the best lines: “250 pounds of luggage, and only 5 of those pounds are mine. It’s like I’m a personal valet for the babies from Downton Abbey.” We dare you to read the piece and not LOL.
On a more serious note, author (and friend of the magazine) Jim Benning paid tribute to his father, who died at age 91 in late September, with a heart-wrenching essay about visiting the old battlefields of Europe together. The story appeared on Worldhum but originally appeared in the 2014 Lonely Planet anthology, An Innocent Abroad. My favorite part of the piece is the dialogue. Few writers do it better than Benning.
Spotlight: It’s On Me
Sometimes the best ways to enhance the travel experiences of loved ones are to contribute from afar. That’s the concept behind It’s On Me, a new app that facilitates gifting on a micro level. Let’s say you get a Facebook notice that a group of pals is celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday at a restaurant in Las Vegas. You can’t make it but want to be part of the fun. Instead of trying to call the restaurant and go through the process of a credit card authorization form to send some drinks, you can send a round of shots via the Its On Me app. Once the transaction has been completed, your friends receive an alert (via Its On Me or Facebook), order the round, and get the drinks on you. The best part: You get to be part of the celebration, even if you’re not there in person. Check it out.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlines, and more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia, and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association, and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.